When a couple divorces, it can be a very difficult time for everyone involved. This can be made even more stressful when there is a child or children involved. It is important to make sure that the child is properly looked after the divorce, with fair and appropriate access to their parents and this is why Child Contact Orders – or Child Arrangement Orders as they are now known – are important.
What is a child contact order?
A Child Contact Order has now been replaced by a Child Arrangement Order. It is a court order that is made when a couple separates. The order gives details about where the children in a relationship will live, who will have custody of them, how they will be cared for, and how much access the other parent will have to them.
The term ‘contact’ refers to the time that the non-residential parent spends with the child after the couple has separated.
A Child Arrangement Order essentially combines a Contact Order (detailing contact) and a Residence Order (detailing with whom the child will live). It is important to remember that contact is the right of the child, not the parent and the relationship between their parents should have no bearing on contact (within reason).
How old does the child have to be for a child contact order to be made?
In legal terms, a Child Contact Order can be made and is applicable until the child is 18 years old. However, the law says that when the child reaches 16 years old, they should have the choice of who they want to live with.
Who can apply for a child contact order?
The most important factor to remember is that contact with family members is the child’s right. Family law outlines that both parents that are on the child’s birth certificate have parental responsibility for the child. This does not, however, give you an automatic right to contact with the child in the event of a separation – the contact is the right of the child.
Anybody who is close to the child has the right to ask for contact with the child. This includes:
- Either parent
- A step-parent
- Any person who the child has lived with for a minimum of three years
- Aunts and Uncles
Why do I need to apply for a contact order?
Every child has the right, where possible, to see – either through contact or residential orders – their parents. Sometimes these arrangements can be made without any orders or legal intervention, but sometimes this is not possible. Many couples are able to resolve the issues through mediation, but for others, it gets to the stage where the courts need to make the decision for them.
All of the decisions relating to the child and their contact with their parents are made with the child’s best interests as a priority.
What are the types of contact?
When it comes to contact with a child, there are a number of different kinds of contact between a parent and a child. These can include:
This refers to when there is face to face contact – they are together in person. This could be between a parent who has a residential order, or not.
This refers to contact when the child is taken to visit the non-residential parent. Visits can take place at the parent’s domestic residence, a grandparent’s home, or temporary accommodation.
Staying contact refers to contact whereby the child stays with the non-residential parent overnight. The family court will indicate what is the maximum amount of time that the child should be allowed to stay away, but this can be disputed if you do not agree.
This refers to the child’s contact arrangements before the details are finalised through a contact order.
Defined contact refers to contact whereby the court defined the schedule of contact.
Refers to the amount of contact that parents deem to be ‘reasonable’. This can often be a sticking point in the proceedings and is something that must be mutually agreed upon.
Refers to contact that takes place in a mutual community location. There are staff and volunteers around by the contact is not monitored and there are no child welfare concerns.
Supervised contact refers to contact that takes place within a contact centre. In these cases, there can be concern over the welfare of the child, and the contact is monitored by staff all the time. Staff also record details of these contact sessions.
This refers to contact when the two are not face to face – it can include telephone cards, letters, emails, and other means of communication. This contact is usually put in place when there is a doubt over the safety of the child and contact is made through a third party. Indirect contact will normally be ordered initially for six months before it is reviewed.
Refers to the next step from contact through a contact centre. In this case, the child and parent can be accompanied to outside locations such as parks or shops. The contact is arranged by the staff.
What is the difference between a child contact order and a residence order?
A Child Contact Order and a Residence Order are both categorised under a Child Arrangement Order. A Residence Order is granted to the parent that will have the child living with them. Child Contact Order will normally be granted to the other parent in the event of a separation, which determines what kind of contact they may have with the child.
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